On the Fence with Analog Vs. Digital. Need Help

Out of the blue I've been considering switching to vinyl. Most likely the reason for this is that my digital source is only an NAD T532 DVD player (ran into 2 NAD C 272 amps, NAD C162 Preamp or Adcom GFP-750 Preamp, Paradigm Studio 60 v3). The sound to me has been relatively harsh and just does not sound natural. My friend also let me borrow his Cambridge Audio Acur D540 player; it has its strengths against the T532, but can still sound bright and edgy. Granted neither of these players are ones to base a good overall analysis of digital sound reproduction on, the prospect of smooth fully analog sound is interesting to me. I've heard LPs before, but only on sub-par playback systems where the albums sounded grainy. So now the question is: do I spend $500 on a new Music Hall MMF-5 turntable and start investing in an entirely new music collection (I own about 3 LPs) to get this smooth sound that I am seeking, or is there a modestly priced CD player or external DAC out there that can achieve a smooth, lifelike sound with my current set up?

I've considered going with an external DAC and a computer-based album storage solution, but from what I've been reading and from what I've noticed listening to more expensive CD players ($3000+), it seems as though you really need to get up around that price range before digital begins to sound smoother and more analog. Right now I don't have $3000 to drop on a DAC/CD Player; it's a little easier to come up with the $500 for the Music Hall and gradually build the LP collection. So that's my dilema. I'm so close to saying "screw digital" and just taking the plunge. I might like, I might hate. Who knows.
From my experience, entering and breaking ground in the vinyl arena is expensive! I had the funds and commitment to do so but I ended up spending way more than I predicted. So beware!
That said, the arrival is made so much sweater by the journey and I can truly say the arrival into great vinyl playback has been extraordinary.

I'm not familiar with your components so I can't comment on their sound or on ways to improve that sound. One thing you said though-"it seems as though you really need to get up around that price range before digital begins to sound smoother and more analog." struck me.

It seems like your ready for something different so I say go for it, but budget twice as much as you expected. Switching media is an additional and addictive expense.

Good Luck!
Make sure the music you want to hear is available on vinyl. Also take into acount the lack of convenience - skipping tracks, playing more than 25 minutes without getting up, not worrying about falling asleep and letting the cartridge bump against the label 33 times a minute for 4 hours, etc. I'm not saying don't do it, just make an informed decision.
There's the phono stage to buy. The cartridge to buy. The leveling devices and force gauges to buy. The leveling tweaks and isolation devices to buy. There's the RCM to buy. The cleaners and brushes to buy. There's the interconnects to buy. There's the time to set everything up, time which you will never get back. Then you have the LPs to buy. Then you have to buy again those things that don't work their advertised charm in your system. It's a time consuming process, and in the end, it will probably cost you close to 3k. Well, all right, 3k may be an exageration--or, worst case scenario, a gross underestimation--but you always want the best you can buy, and often the best does make a difference. I'm closing in on that range, and I'm just starting, too. I have a much larger LP collection, but it's the equipment that's so dear.

On the other hand, the sound is better. I don't know what that quality is, but it is audible. It's richer, I guess. But it's not head over heels better than digital. In short, records are more tactile: things touch each other and, therefore, they radiate their eccentricities, which humans have an uncanny ability to embrace and endear. The record playing endeavor is very human.

My two cents: Keep building your cd collection and work slowly toward the analog end. Don't do it all at once. Look for a very good table, then a good phono stage and finally a decent cartridge. Then buy peripherals, the things that keep your records clean. In the meantime, where ever and when ever you can, buy LPs--it's the best part. Last on the list are ICs. When you have a system, you'll probably wonder why you didn't go for it sooner, but you won't know that until you try, and there's the pity. (Plenty of wise, well-intentioned members of this forum tried to dissuade me, to no avail) Whatever your decision, have fun with it..
I think a computer-based digital setup serves a different purpose than a vinyl setup. I also think you don't have to spend $3K to get really good sound from a computer-based digital system, assuming you already have a computer.

There are many DACs you can get for <$1K used - Benchmark, Bel Canto, Musical Fidelity, etc. Hook it up to a computer-driven server and you have great flexibility and pretty excellent sound. Or buy one of the many well-reviewed CD players for $1500 or less - Cambridge, Arcam, Rotel, etc etc.

I think vinyl is a more "involved" experience, and probably well worth pursuing as well. I would't scrap digital to go for vinyl, however. I'd wait until I could evolve into a dual-source system.
Okay, I have a little different take on all of this. My intuition tells me that you need to find out why your system sounds harsh and unnatural. I don't think that it's necessarily a question of digital vs. analog; there are many other factors to consider. Even some interconnects tend to sound harsher than others.

Perhaps it's a problem of room reflections and poor room acoustics. If so, placing absorptive or diffractive room treatments behind the speakers and on the side walls at the point of the first reflection could help considerably.

Aside from room problems, a typical way to get a smoother, more musical sound would be to try a good tube preamp in your system. I tend to like the sound of the 6SN7 tubes in my system. You could even try a tube line buffer like the one Audio Horizons sells. It may be that your problem is more of a solid-state vs. tubes issue. That Adcom preamp can sound thin and dry in some systems.

Anyway, that's my assessment. Good luck to you in your search for great sound.
In your case, I would try to get into tube gear before getting into vinyl - getting into vinyl at this stage without any collection is difficult. I took the jump 15 years ago when everyone was getting out and records were easily available on my student salary at the time. Unless you are willing to invest into record cleaners, used records are off-limits. New records can run from $10 to $50/piece which will get you excellent quality but are you willing to spent that much?

For me the natural sound came mostly with the move to tubes rather than the move to vinyl. Vinyl takes it a step further, but I could be happy listening to music on either system now.
It's fun to buy records. That is if you like collecting things, going to garage/estate sales, used book-record stores etc. It's an involving experience. And it can be really cheap. As well, you can be the "different" kid on the block. Also like the guy above said, records are more tactile.

As far as sound, I think it sounds better. But most of the time (entertaining/background tunes while you wash the dishes) digital is good enough.

I just bought a Monarchy M24 for about $750. It's a tube Dac/tube linestage (pre-amp). One optical, one coaxial RCA and one linestage for you phono. So you can connect an Apple Airport Express to your optical for internet radio/MP3's/Wav (whatever), I personally don't think it sounds too bad (I have a cheap DAC attached), the coaxial to your CD player (so you don't have to ditch your collection) and the a phono stage to the linestage.

The DAC has gotten good reviews. The tubes might smooth out the sound for you.

I'm new to all this, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
I agree with Plato and the combo of the Adcom and the Paradigms with a mid-fi CDP could be a big part of your problem. That said, you have to spend pretty good $ to get a CDP that beats a modest cost TT, but you do need to budget for a phono stage and i/c unless the adcom has a phono stage.
I agree with Calbrs03 and Plato. Evolve your digital and slowly work toward LP until you see if the performance difference is worth it for you.

I'm crazy about LP's, they work perfectly for me, but I have many years experience so there are no problems and no surprises. Getting into LP's when your primary experience is with CD is a big commitment.

Have you had a chance to hear an entry level LP playback rig in your system? Any friends or local dealers that would show you what it's all about? That would go a long way in settling the issue of performance.

As already stated, you might have cable or other problems making CD performance disappointing. You may only need some correction to get back to enjoying music with CD and not be forced to change everything.
Thanks guys, this has all been great advice. I know I could count on the Audiogoners for some help.

I think it’s good advice to continue building the CD collection and just build the LP collection along side of it. I figure the worst case scenario could be that I end up not liking it and just sell all my vinyl gear and take a small loss. While I do have an NAD C 162 preamp that has a built-in phono stage (and a good one from what I’ve read), I didn’t realize that so many other important things are needed, as Calbrs has stated. I was thinking all I had to pick up was the Music Hall MMF-5, a needle cleaning brush, and one of those red record cleaning pads my dad used to have with the spray bottle of anti-static record cleaner. But I guess I have to realize I’m not playing beat up 45s on my Fisher Price turntable like I was when I was 7 years old.

Honest1: I have been searching around on various sites including Amazon.com to see what’s available. I was actually surprised at some of the things I can find, but also alarmed at how much some of them can cost, depending on whether it was out of print or not.

Kthomas: I’ve looked at a few of those products. Haven’t heard any of them yet. It would nice to have BOTH a vinyl playback system and a good DAC/computer system.

For everyone else that suggested isolating the problem in my system, that is also a very good suggestion. I’ve considered going with possibly a tube DAC, or a tube preamp, but since I don’t have the money to spend on both a tube preamp and a new DAC at once, it’s hard to decide which is more important. I would guess that the DAC is more important. But all I’m trying to do here is tone down the harshness in the system. I’ve also considered the tube buffer, but read that the results from those things are less than what most would expect from them. I am planning to incorporate some kind of room treatments, building my own sound panels from rigid fiberglass panels. That should really be my first step, because no system is going to sound good in a room that isn’t treated properly.

I guess in the end, the “journey” into vinyl is more interesting than just purchasing a better DAC and/or a tube preamp, but I need to evaluate this whole thing on a cost level too. Ideally I’d like to see if my local dealer could lend me a Music Hall MMF-5 to bring into my own home, and borrow some of my dad’s old LPs just to give it a whirl, and then make my decision based on that.
Start over and do it right. Make the commitment to analog and don't look back.

Keep your CDP to play backroom music for making love and cleaning the house.
Getting into vinyl is a good thing. It allows all the folks who have always loved it to have a new source of used stuff to buy after the 'newbies' get tired of fiddling with record cleaning, sending back warped new purchases, finding they just ripped the cantilever off a new $3,000 moving coil.. 'I just smile.....
Or, is it just that audiophiles need new things to fiddle around with? I tell you, vinyl is the ultimate labor of love. If you want it right, it takes a LOT of work, some money, and a lot of patience. If you have these things, you can be happy. If you have only two out of three, you will be selling your vinyl stuff within two years.
And remember, MILLIONS of folks threw out the records, or never used them again after CeeDee arrived... for good reasons!!!!!!!
Improve your present system and stick with digital unless you have a unstoppable urge to be trendy.
Jwglista, what city are you in or close by? What music are you listening to?

Depending on where you are, I am sure there is someone in your are that will let you listen and could mentor you with vinyl. Finally, hit the local used record shops, browse and see what you find and whether it fits your taste.

For a basic estimate I would assume $500 for a good table, about $300-500 for a better phono preamp, another $200 to get started with cleaning supplies and accessoires. That will at least double as you dig in deeper.

Last but not least; Do you have the space for LPs? We are moving every 1-2 years and like to live in the city - moving 600-800 LPs is no joke and takes a large part of our small downtown loft.
I’ve considered going with possibly a tube DAC, or a tube preamp, but since I don’t have the money to spend on both a tube preamp and a new DAC at once, it’s hard to decide which is more important.

There are a couple of good tube preamps in the $500 range used that would give you a good start. Take a look at the Bottlehead Foreplay kit and the Quicksilver preamp. Audible Illusions has some good preamps as well.

As for DACs, I have heard many good things about the MHDT Paradisea+ from some very reliable people. Worth considering as a $400 tube DAC.
vinyl is not just great sound, beautiful album covers and collectable albums, but a way of life, a real connection to the music, the bands and the song writers. for many of us, a true journey, toward our perseption of the absolute sound. the bashers and the nay sayers either do not understand or just plain don't get it, music is anolog and that spinning vinyl disc, from which greatness is often heard.

Beautiful wording on what we hear in a vinyl setup. It is a way of life that has many rewards. Some will never get it but to those of use who do we have a certain grin on our faces that only vinyl can give.
Jwglista: It's hard to argue with vinyl sounding great, which it does, but if buying a vinyl rig and all that goes with it won't solve the problem you're having right now--unpleasant digital playback--you may (and I speak from my own experience) find yourself enjoying records but still missing all the good music on your CDs. The DAC suggestion is a good one, or an investment in a better stand-alone CD player. This idea has been batted around a bit on this forum already, but if you want to try a smoother sounding CDP, a Playstation One for about $25 is as cheap an experiment as you can get. If you find its more laid-back presentation suits you, you could then look for a "real" player or DAC with those attributes--or just keep the Playstation. Me, I'm on the Playstation train and loving my CD collection again. Vinyl's still vinyl, but why not get the most out of the music you have before pursuing another format?
Restock: I live in the Pittsburgh area. I called the local Music Hall dealer and they do have a listening room, but do not allow in-home auditions of the equipment. I do know of a few record stores I could check out though.

Ablang: A Playstation One? Why choose this out of hundreds of other cheap cd players? What other players would have the same attributes as a PS One?
Do not think you need to spend a small fortune to get into vinyl. Sure, I have (probably) $8k+ sunk into my analog front end, I didn't start out that way. My first table was a Music Hall MMF-5, a Hunt brush, and a couple of bottles of Last.

My recommendation (take it for whatever it's worth) is to buy yourself a KAB Technics SL-1200MK5SE, and have KAB recommend and install a cartridge for you. For your first table, IMHO it's the setup / alignment that matters. Plug it into your NAD and enjoy. Simple as that.

If you think you'll get most (or at least some) of your vinyl used, I would also recommend going over to The Disc Doctor and get a couple of scrub brushes and a small bottle of solution (the solution lasts longer than you'd expect, and by the time it's gone, you'll be into the discussion on the "best" cleaning solutions). Yes, there will be a lot of debate on the "best" way to clean vinyl. Well, while the debate rages on, go find some gently used vinyl, scrub it up, and kick back and listen.

Don't let some of these enthusiasts freak you out by suggesting you *need* to spend a lot of money to enjoy vinyl. It's not that they are wrong (per se) but they are pretty far removed from the perspective of someone who is just starting to get into vinyl. I'm sure many of their systems sound amazing (although some don't have their systems listed as a point of reference to their advice), but everyone has to start somewhere, and if I would have been told that I needed to sink $3k into my first analog setup, I never would have taken the plunge.
My advice comes from similar experience. A few years ago I owned the Paradigm Studio 60v.2 powered by older Japanese electronics. Things could get unbearably harsh sounding. There were several system upgrades through Audiogon purchases which improved things over the past few years. Here are a few of the things I've learned to help tame digital harshness.
The single biggest improvement to alleviate the digital nastiness was the purchase of a Resolution Audio CD-50 cdp. I believe it listed for $3k+ when new but I got it on ebay at a steal price, maybe no one in the know was looking that week. The point is, there are cdps that can sound wonderful.
Another thing is those speakers. I remember auditioning my Paradigms and falling in love with them but they would never be called smooth.
One more thing which has been mentioned above is the room. That takes work but is extremely important for good sound.
As for vinyl, my experience is way different than yours. I owned 500 or so albums that were stored in a closet. There is so much work that goes into listening to vinyl it isn't for me. I auctioned off most of my albums here and honestly haven't regretted it. Can vinyl sound wonderful? Most definitely. Can digital sound wonderful? For me the answer is most definitely. They both take some work to get good sound but it is achievable either way.
Jwglista: I bought the Playstation One because I was saving my few pennies for a CD player I wouldn't be able to afford for a good while, and in the meantime all of my CDs were sitting practically unlistened to because I couldn't stand the harsh treble glare I thought just went with the territory of digital. $25 didn't seem like too much to part with, so I tried it--and it's impressive. People compare it to $5000 dollar players--6moons does, anyhow--and while I don't know that that's true, it does play music beautifully. I said it has a laid-back sound, but to my ears that isn't at the expense of detail: it's simply well-balanced, vivid, dynamic and if anything more tonally realistic in its portrayal than many of other "detail"-oriented players I've heard. If you want something other than a cheap gray plastic box, the Paradisea DAC or another "analogue-like" player could be a good bet--PS Audio DAC, Rega, Jolida, Eastern Electric, etc. I haven't heard all of those, but they're the bunch I was considering. For $25 to see if CDs can still be worthwhile? Worth it.

I have a low-budget vinyl rig--old Technics table, Shure cartridge, and Cambridge Audio preamp--and the only constant as I've cycled through a series of amps this year (beginning and ending with NAD) was that it always sounded (in certain aspects) better than my CDs. With the Playstation, I'm listening to CDs again for the first time in a while, though, and my choice of which to listen to has to do not with which format I feel like listening to, but which album. For me, the greatest benefit of vinyl has been the ability to find jazz albums that have never been released on CD, and I'll likely upgrade my vinyl rig at some point just to deepen that pleasure--maybe even before I replace the Playstation. But if you already have a lot of music you like in the CD format, why not at least try a different source before pursuing a whole different medium ?

Hope this helps in some way. I'm no authority by any means, but I've driven myself nuts on a similar roadway. Happy listening.
Oh, if you want some Vinyl propaganda this guy writes a pretty informative and entertaining (keep in mind it is subjective however) online column about the relative merits of vinyl (I like his choice in music as well):


I re-read your post, whatever you do, don't get rid of your CDs. Depending on what sort of music you listen to, some of it might sound better on CDs (hip hop, electronic, jazz re-remixes etc). Zeppelin, Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Metallica definately sound way better on vinyl though.

Also with the Playstation, it's only the first model scph 1001 that is considered worthy for CD playback.
FWIW, I also liked the Playstation. It was $35, I wanted to spend my limited resources on a computer based system and analog. Pretty low risk. I only have about 60 CDs, and have very limited experience with gear, but I agree with Ablang, I like my CDs a lot more now through the playstation.


I have a really cheap NAD 325bee integrated with my PS1 and it doesn't sound at all bright.. maybe it's your speakers?

Also I'm in the same boat with analogue. I was thinking of the MMF-5 because it's all inclusive but I"ve decided to go for the Rega P2 or P3 (older Planar as well) in the meantime. I can't afford any of the Michell decks, and then you start thinking you need a better phono stage to warrant such a nice deck etc etc. Waiting for one in the $350-450 range. Especially with it's RB250 tonearm.

Supposedly the RB250 is better than the RB300 arm due to it's infinite tweakability.

You can upgrade the table piece by piece (groovetracer.com) or arm (origin live.com) should you decide to go that route.

Should you get into it, you can keep the RB250 tonearm, as a lot of higher end tables don't come with either the arm or cartridge. Rega has quite a following. Especially it's lower end stuff.

Since you have a phono stage already, you're good to go for $350-400. My first medium was vinyl, and even before I heard about a record cleaning machine (thanks audiogon) I loved the music from my LPs. I think you were right with your first instinct, you're ready to go with a brush and some records... besides, you can always sell for what you paid.

Don't get rid of your CDs. Run parrallel for a while. When I switched to digital in the late 1980s, thank goodness that I kept all my vinyl. I came back seriously to vinyl last year, but I also have a SOTA digital system. I'll probably get a music server as soon as a hi rez version comes out with a decent interface.

Bottom line is that all formats have a place. You can be primarily one or the other but don't dump everything else. You could regret that down the line.

I'm actually planning to audition the MMF-5 or 5.1 (whichever he has) tomorrow afternoon. The more I think about vinyl and search the websites looking for albums, the more fun it seems. It's as though being an audio enthusiast becomes even more of a hobby with vinyl. I did think along those same lines as well. I know that individual parts of the analog setup can be upgraded by themselves. I'm pretty gung ho about it, so the final step will be listening to the 'table to see how it really sounds. I might try the PS1 as well just to experiment.
Very good advice. In fact I plan to eventually run some kind of home-made music server myself. So if I do chose to go vinyl here, I'll always keep my digital albums. The only format I can say that I safely ditched was the cassette tape. No regrets there.
I love vinyl and listen to it frequently, BUT... you really can't beat the convenience of digital particularly with hard disk servers and solutions like the Squeezebox.

When I want to turn out the lights and just soak it in, I usually turn to vinyl, but the rest of the time, it is digital all the way.

I wouldn't give up either.
Well everyone, thank you for the advice. After auditioning the Music Hall MMF-5 today, I've made the decision that once the funds are available I will purchase this 'table. I was very surprised at how much more musical vinyl can sound. Sure, it didn't have all the detail that a cd might have, but this is a table that can be had for around $500. I actually heard the MMF-5, which he offered to sell as a demo unit for $479. I'll opt for a brand new MMF-5.1 that he'll give to me for $550, including assembly. I've heard there are significant improvements over the MMF-5, so I'm anxious to get this unit into my home. I'm very excited about starting the journey into vinyl and I think it's going to be a very enjoyable one.
Congratulations, I hope you find musical heaven with your new analog rig.
What kind of music do you like? I humbly think vinyl, (and SACD for that matter) shines best with acoustic music and a recording engineer who tries to capture both the music and the hall acoustic as well.

Also, I think the "hassle" of vinyl is a little overstated here. I have a vac cleaner and the peripheral ring and clamp: it takes about 45 seconds to get the music flowing.
I loved the sound I got out of my Tube Audio Designs TADAC. No harshness, sounded natural.
I bought a tube audio designs TADAC and love it. It made my digital media server sound better than a very high end cd player. I liked the sound even better than my musical fidelity tri-vista dac which is no slouch.
I may have not done your question justice by simply pointing out that I like the TADAC. Vinyl and analog tube sound actually does alot of things that digital doesn't. It is less baren and stark in the highs and gives you more of a smooth full bodied midrange and broader soundstage.

You may have noticed that different amps and speakers sound different. Alot of that, along with hardware differences is voicing (a fancy way of saying the manufacturers altered the sound to their preferences). That is to say, the sound is not pure as audiophiles in denial wish to say, but rather has been altered at a low level so as not to intefere with harmonics. The sound is altered to give the listener what the manufacturer wants him to here. Granted good electronics make a big difference, but the music sculpting does occur and the effects are substantial between brands in my opinion. Tube or analog sound has its own innate scuplting, which if it is if done properly,can be superior to digital sound in most respects in my opinion.

Paul with the Tube Audio Design TADAC has a wonderful electronic instrument that creates a sound which is more natural sounding to the ear than the usual cool sterile slightly annoying digital sound renders. Without discarding your digital gear and amp, you can have the better part of both worlds and produce incredible sound by feeding your digital signal into it, whatever the source.

By my ears anyway (I'm guessing of course and I can't speak for him), he has created a DAC that not only inserts a great tube richness to the music, but he has also appeared to throw away the oscillascope and measuring equipment mentality that says give them a perfectly flat output signal, and used his ear and adjusted the harmonics on top of the benefit that tubes have to offer, to render a sound that is rich and natural and not fatiging that goes beyond the barren perfect digital soundscape into the analog world of full relaxed harmonics and soundstage.

This of course is theory, only the manufacturers know for sure what is being done. Nah, I am being too polite, of course they change the sound forcing you to swap cables and change equipment to compensate. However, the TADAC has done more to improve the sound of my music than any component I have used - other than the speakers.

The TADAC did not result in a mushy bass like I got with the Monarchy. It did not result in a full midrange along with noise and peculair coloration like I heard with the Jolida gear. It did not sound just a little better than the analog output of my player as did the musical fidelity X-DAV V3, A3.24, and the better of these two the Trivista which I was able to listen to at home. The sound was clearly superior to the Trivista by my ears.

The other day I was listening to an album with what thought was wind. With the TADAC it changed into the sound of water which it was supposed to sound like. You will love this DAC!

So, you don't have to get a phonograph and buy lots of vinyl records to get analog like sound. Just buy a TADAC in my opinion.

I will definitely have to check out that DAC. I actually took the pluge almost 2 months ago and bought a Music Hall MMF-5.1 turntable. Since then I've been doing various things to tweak my analog sound. It's definitely fun, and makes audio a true hobby, but it is nowhere near as convenient as CDs. But I am enjoying the sound very much; there is something about analog sound reproduction that I have never heard in a digital setup. Yes, it lacks that ultimate transparency, image stability, and acuracy, but it more than makes up for that with soundstage reproduction, harmonic detail, smoothness, and just an overall "musical" sound. I am drawn into the music more with analog as opposed to digital. There's just something more interesting about it.

With that said, there are certain albums that I just cannot get on vinyl due to how rare and expensive they are. And some of the newer stuff that I listen to was never even released on vinyl. For that reason, I still need to run a dual setup, but have not played a cd on my system in a while, just because I haven't had the money to purchase a DAC. But I will definitely look into this DAC, because it sounds very promising. I do think you need tubes somewhere in the chain with digital playback.